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Will Illinois Join National "Raise the Age" Wave?

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Advocates say the juvenile court system offers more rehabilitative resources than the adult system. (Pixabay)
Advocates say the juvenile court system offers more rehabilitative resources than the adult system. (Pixabay)
 By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL, Contact
July 23, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Some advocates and policymakers are hopeful Illinois will become part of a wave of national juvenile justice reform.

Vermont recently passed a law expanding juvenile jurisdiction to include youths up to age 20, and Massachusetts lawmakers are studying a similar measure as part of a new criminal justice reform law.

Here in Illinois, raising the age is an issue state Rep. Laura Fine has been working on for a few years.

The Glenview Democrat says brain science shows the brain doesn't fully mature until age 26.

"Somebody under the age of 26 might do something that they would never consider doing once their brain is fully developed,” she states. “Based on this, we really feel like the age of a misdemeanor should be increased so that child in many ways who may commit a misdemeanor doesn't have to pay for that for the rest of their life."

Fine introduced House Bill 4541 earlier this year. If passed, it would allow 18, 19 and 20-year-olds charged with misdemeanors have their cases heard in juvenile court. The bill passed out of committee, and Fine hopes it will get a hearing in the full House.

Because young adults can vote and serve their country, some argue they should have to face the consequences of breaking the law as an adult.

But Garien Gatewood, director of public policy for the Juvenile Justice Initiative, counters there's a flip side to that, considering Illinois just raised the age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.

"It's the same kid that you're talking about that you want to protect from tobacco, or you want to protect from moving out on your own at 18, 19 and 20 if you're a ward of the foster system,” he states. “We should look at protecting their mental well-being, their physical well-being and emotional well-being."

Fine says the legislation calls for an incremental process to raising the age that includes yearly reporting from the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.

"It says that we could increase it to at first 19 or 20 and examine, how is it working,” she explains. “Is it working well and we should go on, or it's not working and we should go back. So, we're really trying to do this carefully."

Illinois is among several states that in the past decade enacted laws raising the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18.

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